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Jordan Stratford: "How to read Gnostic texts" -

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Jordan Stratford: "How to read Gnostic texts" - Empty Jordan Stratford: "How to read Gnostic texts" -

Post  Khephra on Sun Oct 18, 2009 11:10 am

See here for the original post:

How To Read Gnostic Texts:

1) Read the primary source material. This sounds simple enough, but you'd be surprised how much of the "reading" that goes on is actually just looking at the summary in Wikipedia.

2) Read more than one translation. There are substantial and meaningful differences between, say, Robinson and Meyer and Grant.

3) Try the interlinear, and translate for yourself. This is not as tricky as you might think. Here is a word by word, Coptic to English translation of Thomas, and you can look up words in the various Coptic lexicons online to see for yourself. It's dorky fun. I had a great epiphany in a text crit class as we read Mark in Greek, and discovered that here:

"...the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."

...the word "afraid" is really "in ecstasy".

4) Milieu. Learn about the world view of the cultures in which the authors were raised. Understand the politics, the blurred lines, the burning questions of the time. One of the biggest reasons that "matter" and "redemption" are such hot topics in Gn texts is because there was a huge debate raging in the Jewish world about literal vs. figurative rising of the dead, and if the risen flesh was of the same nature as the flesh which perished. This was a huge, huge deal at the time. Part of that discussion was a hangover from the origins of Judaism, trying to make it distinct by rejecting the theology of its neighbours, particularly Egyptian religion, which had a clearly defined theology of the body. Jewish body theology was hotly contested. When you add Plato in there, and emanationist cosmogeny, you're in for a pretty lively debate. If you miss that bit of history you're likely to think that Gnostic texts are bringing up the subject because it was among the most important things for them specifically, whereas at the time it would have been weird if they didn't address it.

4b) Milieu Part Deux. Gnostic texts weren't created in a vacuum. There are buckets of Gnostic references to and paraphrasing of Plato, the Bible (the "Old Testament"), the New Testament, and even Syrian demonology. The Naj Hammadi works are part of a continuum that includes Timaeus, Poimandres, Enoch and the Torah, and can't be understood accurately outside this context.

5) While I'm not suggesting that Gnostic authors were psychologists (WARNING: I am not suggesting that Gnostic authors were psychologists. We clear? Just covering my butt here) they clearly DID understand the impact of myth and symbol, and used symbolic language to impart both MEANING and PERCEPTUAL CHANGE IN THE READER. The use of numbers, colours, and animals is never random, but speak to traditional layers of interpretation. So you need to learn about this guy: Philo of Alexandria, who is as Gnostic as anybody: A Jewish scholar from Alexandria, educated in Greek, with a keen sense of multiple-layers-of meaning. In fact Philo's whole schtick was about multiple layers of meaning; a surface interpretation for the kids in the cheap seats, a symbolic interpretation for the educated, and then a kind of experiential space entered by the initiates. The bottom line is that the literal, surface interpretation is never the end of the conversation.

6) Hermeneutic is not tautology. The academic interpretation of the day is not a monolithic, unarguable reality. In fact it changes every twenty years or so. Also YOUR understanding of these texts will evolve with your experience. So don't get too attached.

6b) Be mindful of Gloss. Even though scholars evolve their understanding of these texts, often they continue to use the same gloss ("spin") which resulted in earlier, temporarily-out-of-date scholarly readings. That gloss can be paradigmatic and awfully persuasive as it's rarely challenged.

7) Lectio Divina. I've written a lot about this practice before, and really, the best way I've found to navigate the contradictory, challenging, and outright weirdness of many Gn texts is just to hang out with them in a mindful, contemplative way that becomes part of your spiritual practice. Just don't be afraid to disagree with them.

"Sacred Activism is the fusion of the mystic's passion for God with the activist's passion for justice, creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart that longs to help, preserve, and nurture every living thing." - Andrew Harvey

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Post  Benjamin Stein on Mon Oct 19, 2009 1:31 pm

Thanks for this, I enjoyed it and the link. It reminds me of a quote from Spinoza:
"All Scripture was written primarily for an entire People, and secondarily for the whole human race; consequently its contents must necessarily be adapted, as far as possible, to the understanding of the masses." (Baruch de Espinoza, Tractus Theoligica-Politicus, Cap. v.).
Benjamin Stein
Benjamin Stein

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Post  ankh_f_n_khonsu on Wed Oct 21, 2009 9:16 am

I think this had some great advice. Foremost: read the source material, and lots of it.

I've been doing a little digging into the the "Gospel of Mark", and the diversity in translation is staggering...

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Jordan Stratford: "How to read Gnostic texts" - Empty This is great, because Gnosticism...

Post  rhymeskeema on Thu Jun 10, 2010 4:51 am

...has been coming up a lot lately. Just began to listen to Hoeller and have read Thomas and Judas, and in the midst of Enoch.

So all this Gnosis, then, is fluid, and just because people once tripped real hard on these matters, doesn't mean they came up with all the answers. They just started the dialog.

What has been bugging my mind lately is this demi-urge. What is it?


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